Cross Country Teams Start Conference

FAYETTEVILLE -- For the first time since 2002, both the Arkansas men's and women's cross country teams find themselves on top of the mountain in the Southeastern Conference.

For the men, that is nothing new. The Razorbacks have been the reigning SEC champions since Arkansas has been in the league.

But for the Lady'Backs, conference titles haven't come with as much frequency as the men. The Lady'Backs even had to fight through a four-year drought after winning the conference 10 of the first 12 years they were in it.

Both teams get the chance to defend their titles this evening as the University of Arkansas hosts the Fayetteville Invitational and the Arkansas Duels at Agri Park Cross Country Course.

Both teams will get the chance to take on Missouri Southern State in each event. The Lady'Backs will run 4,000 meters in the first race, starting at 6:30 p.m., while the Razorbacks will run four miles against the Lions, starting at 7 p.m.

"It's very early in the season, but we'll see how much hunger we've got," Razorback coach John McDonnell said.

For the Lady'Backs, experience will be the key to their success this season. They lost none to graduation last year but did lose three due to transfers or early exits from the team.

But one of those who transferred was All-American sophomore Brooke Upshaw, who left to move to Texas A&M, closer to her hometown of Southlake, Texas. Upshaw won the SEC Championship last year by three seconds before finishing 37th at the NCAA Championships, becoming just the third freshman in Lady'Back history to become an All-American.

Without Upshaw's services, the Lady'Backs will have to rely on juniors Christine Kalmer, Dacia Barr and Denise Bargiachi. Kalmer faded a little last year after a standout freshman campaign in which she won SEC Freshman of the Year honors as well as a fifth-place finish at the SEC Championships.

Barr enters the season after a highly successful outdoor campaign in which she became an All-American in the 1,500-meter run. She was also runner-up at the SECs a year ago and finished 58th at the NCAA Championships, just missing the cut to be an All-American.

But Barr will not compete in tonight's race and should miss at least the first half of the season due to knee surgery. Bargiachi could see her race finishes improve this season in Barr's absence after a first-team All-SEC selection and 86th-place finish at the NCAA Championships.

"Dacia had some scope surgery," Lady'Back coach Lance Harter said. "Basically, they found some micro-tearing on her meniscus, but the doctor went in there and scoped it. He feels that she should be ready to go in two weeks.

"We'll be excited to get her back and going because she is a mainstay in our program."

On the men's side, the Razorbacks find themselves with yet another serviceable team that will look to keep Arkansas' 33-year conference winning streak alive. The Razorback harriers return two All-Americans from the past two seasons as well as a significant number of upperclassmen.

Juniors Scott MacPherson and Kenny Cormier return as All-Americans for the team. MacPherson finished 48th at the NCAA Championships last year and Cormier finished 28th in the 2005 NCAAs before finishing 74th last year, though he is battling illness and will not run today.

Seniors Shawn Forrest, Matt Munoz and Tyler Hill round out the upperclassmen for the Razorbacks. Each have three years of experience under their belts, with Forrest redshirting his indoor and outdoor seasons to nurse a stress fracture in his foot.

"Forrest is looking great, knock on wood," McDonnell said. "If Forrest stays healthy, he will be a big trump card for us."

The squad will have to make up for the loss of graduated seniors Peter Kosgei, Seth Summerside and Adam Perkins. Kosgei was a two-time All-American in cross country, Summerside earned an All-American in his final race as a Razorback and Perkins was a five-time All-American in track.

Both teams come into the season picked to win the SEC again by the coaches. The SEC Championships will be Oct. 27 in Lexington, Ky.

Running unattached at the Arkansas Duels will be former Razorback greats Alistair Cragg, Josphat Boit and Said Ahmed along with Summerside and Perkins.

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